Warning Signs: Attention! (October 6, 2019)
Warning Signs: Attention!
I’ve driven down that road hundreds of times. I knew it. I was familiar with it. I was comfortable with it. That comfortability led to me almost blowing out my tires and denting my rims a couple times. I’m talking about where 93 bridges I-35 in Belton. Not too long ago they redid a portion of that road which created a trench across 93 several inches deep for several weeks. It’s a road I often travel on, and during those weeks of construction it took several sudden impacts to finally get it in my brain that I have to slow down, watch out, and pay attention until the road was fixed.
It’s a very different story for the road construction on I-35 between Jarrell and Georgetown right now. There too, they are tearing up the road, but it’s being done in long swaths, with the flow of traffic. There’s still potholes that could do serious damage that are uncovered as they dig up the road, but since I’ve been driving on such a rough road already, my senses are heightened, I’m paying attention, and I’m watching for any potholes that might show up in my path. Two similar roads, two very different outcomes. All due to my attention and awareness.
This letter to the church in Sardis serves as a wakeup call. “Pay Attention!” Jesus says. “Wake up!” It’s really interesting as you go through these letters in Revelation – there’s 7 of them – it’s interesting to see that the churches that needed the wake up calls were the only 2 that really weren’t being persecuted or threatened in any way. The poor and persecuted Christians in Smyrna was praised for being rich in spirit! And even though they would go through a time of suffering, God says don’t be afraid, you will be victorious (Rev 2:8-11). The church in Pergamum, although the city being a prominent place of false doctrines and false gods, Jesus commended them from remaining true to his name. But Laodicea, which was comfortable in its wealth is criticized for being neither cold nor hot. And here, Sardis, which was a prominent and peaceful city, is criticized for looking very lively, but really being dead.
All this goes to show that comfort can lead to complacency. Sometimes God uses affliction, trouble, or persecution to serve as warning signs and build up his church. Why do you think that Smyrna was rich in spirit and strong in their reliance on God? Because they didn’t have a lot of worldly possessions and yet they saw how God took care of them. Why do you think the church in Pergamum firmly held to the truth of Jesus? Because they were up against false doctrine on every side and had to hone their understanding of God’s Word to stand up against falsehood.
Now, I’m not saying that we here in Temple are like Sardis – having “a reputation of being alive, but really dead” inside (Rev 3:1). But I am saying watch out. It’s always a danger we want to be aware of. I think we are quite comfortable with where we are at and how things are going, and before we get lulled into complacency and sleep walking I want to say, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2). Because I think we Lutherans have a tendency to get comfortable, to be content with how things are going, and to lose our zeal for what we have. I don’t think we are quite a Sardis – looking alive, but really dead inside. But maybe we’ve taken the first step and become comfortable with how things are going and lost some of our zeal.
Here’s where I see it. We have a number of things going well right now. In terms of worship services we have Reformation coming up – a celebration of our “grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone” heritage. We also have our Advent by Candlelight and Christmas Eve service coming up which I know are cherished by many. And just around the corner from that we have our Easter Festival service which swells our hearts and voices! I’ve also loved adding choirs and special instrumentation to those services. In terms of outreach we’ve had our VBS earlier this summer, we have our Movie Night coming up, and on a regular basis we’ve had a growing group for Mommy&Me. All great things. All exciting events. All things which get us going and working together as a congregation! I’m so happy and proud to be a part of all this.
But I’ll ask one question, why do we do it? Why do we have special services? Why do we host events for the public? Why, I might ask, do you come here Sunday after Sunday? Is it just because that’s what I do? Is it because that’s what’s on the calendar? Is it because that’s just what churches do?
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains” (Rev 3:2). “Wake up… Remember what you have received and heard” (Rev 3:2-3). If we just do things because we’ve done them. Or do things because that’s what we are comfortable doing, well then we need to wake up, remember, and strengthen.
What have you received and heard? When I stand over there at the lectern and read, what are you hearing? Just stories from an old book? Or is it something more? Isn’t it the words of God himself? God’s own message, spoken from the lips of men, yes, but God’s own word for you to hear and believe. And really, although some might say that’s hard to believe, what’s so hard to believe about an Almighty God doing things that we can’t? Doing things that we deem impossible? He’s God, isn’t he? And so if he wants to create all things into existence he most certainly can. If he wants to raise people from the dead, he can. If he decided that by the death of his Son on the cross all sins would be forgiven, then glory be to God! And if he decided to raise his Son from the dead to prove without a doubt that this is most certainly true, then praise be to God! He did it. He rose from the dead. He rose victorious over sin and death, proved it to his disciples and more than 500 people that as God he can do impossible things! And he still does the impossible as the Spirit goes out and raises the spiritually dead to new life – raising you from unbelief to faith. All this is packaged so conveniently. All this is made so readily available to you.
Do you remember what that was like? When you were digging into God’s Word for the first time – or maybe digging into it again after being away from it for too long? Do you know what it’s like to make new connections in Scripture as you continue to read and study it? There’s excitement over what God has done. There’s eagerness to learn more. There’s a fighting urge to share your excitement with someone else so that they might marvel along with you at what God has done! I have a pastor friend down near Austin that I share many moments like this with. Just ask my wife. We get into our own little zone and feed off one another’s excitement and together we grow! Together we marvel. Together we are strengthened. Together, we share Christ with one another.
When you get down to it, isn’t that why we are here? Here on this earth at all, really. But also here on Sunday morning – each one a mini Easter where we die to sin as we confess it and are raised to new life through Word and Sacrament. Isn’t that why we have events, so that we can share the reason for why we gather, the reason for our excitement, the reason for our hope. And I know it’s easy to fall into a pattern and to lose our zeal. I know it’s easy to get into habit and forget what we have every time we read the Scriptures – the very word of God. Especially when it’s the 17th Sunday after Pentecost… how many more until a change of season? It’s easy to be lulled to sleep like Sardis when things just keep on running smoothly – no interruptions. The church at Sardis didn’t put her peace to use. She did not reach out and share what she had. She was content and was lulled to spiritual sleep in that comfort.
So, wake up! Remember what you have! Wake up! Strengthen what remains! Wake up! And share the reason for the hope that you have every opportunity you get.
I heard about an interesting study that was done where non-Christians were asked if they were opposed to talking about faith with believers. The surprising answer was that they weren’t opposed when the Christians were excited about their faith. And I don’t think it’s simply because people like talking to exciting people. I don’t think the answer is simply to rile up Christians with a powerful sermon and moving music and then send them out before the feeling wears off. I think the real issue is that we forget what we have. You have salvation, eternal life, the treasure of God’s Word! Or maybe we are hesitant to share God’s word because we forget what it does. We place the burden on ourselves to persuade and convince rather than on God and his Word! Someone once said the best way to defend God’s Word – defend the truth of God’s Word – is the same way you would defend a lion. How do you defend a lion? You let it out of its cage. How do you defend God’s Word? You let it out of its cage. You share it. So unleash the Word and let him accomplish what he desires and achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Is 55:11).